I get to work and the repetition starts: unlock the filing cabinet, dock my laptop, CTRL + ALT + DELETE, enter password, wait. Scratch the days off the calendar, watch the script on the screen that explains why I’m waiting:
Applying group policy drive maps policy…
I see that and hate it; I hate it because it’s poorly written, and it’s written by someone in IT who was probably right at the time: true, that’s what the system is doing, but it’s not telling me anything useful. It’s trying to explain why I’m waiting, but I don’t get it. I’m removed.
I was on a technology project for two years, building an ERP system for people in China. They were used to working off spreadsheets, doing real estate deals and constructing stores, fast. We built a business case around a new system that would scale to the growth expected in the market, and yield better information faster, with less effort.
Many months were spent documenting the “as-is” process. No one had documented how things got done before, not to the painstaking detail required to translate business process into system requirements and functionality.
We hired consultants: two sets of them, so one would serve as a checks and balances against the other. I was one of about five project managers, with five others who weren’t project managers but acted that way.
I sat in the windowless room watching the others around the projector, occasionally inserting myself so I could feign interest and comprehension, and to keep my mind alert. I fired off crisp emails afterwards, bullet pointing the next steps and action items.
It went on for months, in two hour increments throughout the week. I was 100% allocated to the project. People asked how it was going and I said, great!
Then we had a steering committee meeting where we had to cop to the fact we had spent more capital than intended. We needed more. The tone of the meetings got tense, and then they stopped inviting me. We switched from our “Agile-Lite,” or “Waterfall/Agile Hybrid” methodology to plain old Agile-SCRUM. And I’m pleased to report, it worked.
The biggest difference between Waterfall and Agile is the documentation–how much, and when. And why this is interesting is that it’s all about language, and the inherent limits of verbal and written communication.
We spent months decomposing processes using Visio flow charts. We spent months getting business leaders to read the documentation, and sign off on it. But in the end, we had to build it and let them use it before they could really understand what it was and communicate to us how it needed to function.
It’s part of why I snicker at the problems with the health.gov website here in the U.S. Things just aren’t as easy and straightforward as you’d like to think, with systems. Or with people.